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Health & safety

Dangers & annoyances

Bangkok is a safe city, and incidents of violence against tourists are rare. However, scams aimed at separating you and your hard-earned are so prevalent that the term ‘gem scam’ has become almost synonymous with ‘Bangkok’. Con artists tend to haunt first-time tourist spots, such as the Grand Palace area, Wat Pho, the Golden Mount and Siam Sq (especially near Jim Thompson’s House).

Most scams begin the same way: a friendly Thai male (or, on rarer occasions, a female) approaches and strikes up a seemingly innocuous conversation. Sometimes the con man says he’s a university student or teacher; at other times he might claim to work for the World Bank or a similarly distinguished organisation. If you’re on the way to Wat Pho or Jim Thompson’s House, for example, he may tell you it’s closed for a holiday or repairs. Eventually the conversation works its way around to the subject of the scam – the best fraudsters can actually make it seem as though you initiated the topic. The scammer might spend hours inveigling you into his trust, taking you to an alternative ‘special’ temple, for example, and linking with other seemingly random people, often túk-túk drivers, who are also in on the scam.

The scam itself almost always incorporates gems, tailor shops or card playing. With gems, the victim is invited to a gem and jewellery shop – your new-found friend is picking up some merchandise for himself and you’re just along for the ride. Somewhere along the way he usually claims to have a connection in your home country (what a coincidence!) with whom he has a regular gem export-import business. One way or another, the victim is persuaded that they can turn a profit by arranging a gem purchase and reselling the merchandise at home. After all, the jewellery shop just happens to be offering a generous discount today.

There are seemingly infinite variations on the gem scam, almost all of which end up with the victim purchasing small, low-quality sapphires and posting them to their home country. Once you return home, of course, the cheap sapphires turn out to be worth much less than what you paid for them. Many have invested and lost virtually all their savings.

Even if you were able to return your purchase to the gem shop in question, chances are slim to none they’d give a full refund. The con artist who brings the mark into the shop gets a commission of 10% to 50% per sale – the shop takes the rest. The Thai police are usually of no help, believing that merchants are entitled to whatever price they can get. The main victimisers are a handful of shops who get protection from certain high-ranking government officials.

At tailor shops the objective is to get you to pay exorbitant prices for poorly made clothes. The tailor shops that do this are adept at delaying delivery until just before you leave Thailand, so that you don’t have time to object to poor workmanship. The way to avoid this scam is to choose tailor shops yourself and not offer any more than a small deposit – no more than enough to cover your chosen fabrics – until you’re satisfied with the workmanship.

The card-playing scam starts out very similarly to the gem scenario: a friendly stranger approaches the lone traveller on the street, strikes up a conversation and then invites him or her to the house of his relative for a drink or meal. After a bit of socialising, a friend or relative of the con arrives; it just so happens a little high-stakes card game is planned for later that day. Like the gem scam, the card-game scam has many variations, but eventually the victim is shown some cheating tactics to use with help from the ‘dealer’, some practice sessions take place and finally the game gets under way. The mark is allowed to win a few hands first, then somehow loses a few, gets bankrolled by one of the friendly Thais, and then loses the Thai’s money. Suddenly your new-found buddies aren’t so friendly any more – they want the money you lost. Sooner or later you end up sucking large amounts out of the nearest ATM. Again the police won’t take any action – in this case because gambling is illegal in Thailand and you’ve broken the law by playing cards for money.

Other minor scams involve túk-túk drivers, hotel employees and bar girls who take new arrivals on city tours; these almost always end in high-pressure sales pushes at silk, jewellery or handicraft shops. In this case greed isn’t the ruling motivation – it’s simply a matter of weak sales resistance.

The best way to avoid all this is to follow the TAT’s number-one suggestion: disregard all offers of free shopping or sightseeing help from strangers. You might also try lying whenever a stranger asks how long you’ve been in Thailand – if it’s only been three days, say three weeks! The con artists rarely prey on anyone except new arrivals.

You should contact the Tourist Police if you have any problems with consumer fraud. Call 1155 from any phone.

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While you're there

Medical services

More than Thailand’s main health-care hub, Bangkok has become a major destination for medical tourism, with patients flying in for treatment from all over the world. In addition to three university research hospitals, the city is home to an ever-expanding number of public and private hospitals and hundreds of private medical clinics. Bumrungrad International, widely considered the best hospital in the country, despite being a bit of a factory, has US accreditation and feels more like a hotel than a hospital; rooms have free wi-fi internet, equipment is the latest available and in the ‘lobby’ you’ll find Starbucks and, erm, McDonalds – would you like a thick shake with that bypass?

Whether your stay is to recover from a nasty ‘Thai tattoo’ (burned inner right calf after a motorcycle mishap), for corrective surgery you couldn’t afford or wait for at home, or for something more cosmetic – new nose, lips, breasts, Adam’s apple removal – the following hospitals should be able to help. Of course, it’s worth checking the websites and searching around online for feedback before booking yourself in for anything. It’s worth remembering that Thai hospitals are notorious for over-prescribing drugs and overcharging for them at their own dispensaries. Doctors will often speak English, but if you need another language contact your embassy for advice.

Bangkok’s better private hospitals include:

Bangkok Christian Hospital (0 2235 1000-07; www.bkkchristianhosp.th.com; 124 Th Silom; Saladaeng)

Bangkok Hospital (0 2310 3000; www.bangkokhospital.com; 2 Soi 47, Th Phetburi Tat Mai, Bangkapi)

BNH Hospital (0 2686 2700; www.bnh hospital.com; 9 Th Convent; Saladaeng; Silom)

Bumrungrad International (0 2667 1000; www.bumrungrad.com; 33 Soi 3, Th Sukhumvit; Nana or Ploenchit)

Phyathai Hospital 1 (0 2640 1111; www.phyathai.com; 364/1 Th Si Ayuthaya;Victory Monument)

Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital (0 2711 8000; www.samitivej.co.th; 133 Soi 49, Th Sukhumvit; Phrom Phong)

All these hospitals have substantial ophthalmological treatment facilities. The best eye specialist in the city is Rutnin Eye Hospital (0 2639 3399; www.rutnin.com; 80/1 Soi Asoke; Th Sukhumvit; Asoke; Sukhumvit).

Medical spas mixing alternative therapies, massage and detoxification have taken ‘the cure’ a step further.

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Chinese medicine

In the Sampeng–Yaowarat district, along Th Ratchawong, Th Charoen Krung, Th Yaowarat and Th Songwat, you will find many Chinese clinics and herbal dispensaries, though not so much English so bring someone to translate. Larger is the Huachiew General Hospital (2223 1351; hch@huachiewhospital.com; 665 Th Bamrung Meuang), a medical facility dedicated to all aspects of traditional Chinese medicine, along with modern international medicine. The team of licensed acupuncturists at Huachiew are thought to be Thailand’s most skilled, though there isn’t much English spoken here.

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As you wander around Bangkok it can start to seem that there is a dental clinic on every soi. Or maybe two or three. Business is good in the teeth game, partly because so many faràng are combining their holiday with a spot of cheap root canal or some ‘personal outlook’ care – a sneaky teeth-whitening treatment by any other name. Suggested clinics include:

Bangkok Dental Spa (0 2651-0807; www.bangkokdentalspa.com; 27 Methawattana Bldg, 2nd fl, Soi 19, Th Sukhumvit; Asoke; Sukhumvit) This is not a typo. Combines oral hygiene with spa services (foot and body massage).

Dental Design Clinic & Lab (0 2261 9119; www.dentaldesignclinic-lab.com; 20 Dental Design Bldg, Soi 21, Th Sukhumvit; Asoke; Sukhumvit)

Dental Hospital (02 2260 5000-15; www.dentalhospitalbangkok.com; 88/88 Soi 49, Th Sukhumvit; Thong Lor) A private dental clinic with fluent English-speaking dentists.

Siam Family Dental Clinic (0 2255 6664; www.siamfamilydental.com; 292/6 Soi 4, Siam Sq; Siam) Teeth-whitening is big here.

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Pharmacies are plentiful in the city, and in central areas most pharmacists will speak English. If you don’t find what you need at the smaller pharmacies, try one of the hospitals listed above, which stock a wider range of pharmaceuticals but also charge higher prices (and you’ll need to see a doctor first). The hospital pharmacies are open 24 hours; smaller pharmacies usually open around 10am and close between 8pm and 10pm. One non-hospital pharmacy that’s open 24 hours is Foodland Supermarket Pharmacy (0 2254 2247; 1413 Soi 5, Th Sukhumvit; Skytrain Nana).

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